So much have been said and written about the Mohammadu Buhari led administration’s commitment to completely ousting Boko Haram from the remaining swathes of territory it still controls in Nigeria’s North-East. In tandem with the great expectations that heralded his ascension to office, the President has seemingly left no one in doubt regarding his commitment to completing the daunting task at hand. From diplomatic shuttles across the Western Africa sub-region to muster the support of the country’s neighbours, appointment of new Service Chiefs, relocation of the army headquarters to Maiduguri, a visit to the U.S to muster diplomatic and strategic aid, in tandem with other efforts – overt and covert – President Buhari has seemingly hit the ground running in just two months of assuming office. Of all these efforts, the sub-regional security initiative appears to be the likely game-changer.
Unlike the scenario during the early stages of the crisis, when Nigeria was solely involved in the fight against BH, its neighbours have now realized that the crisis is no longer just a Nigerian problem, but a regional security challenge that requires a multi-pronged approach. This new thinking have been reinforced by regional efforts to set up the new Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) consisting of troops drawn from Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon, Niger and Bénin, to be headquartered in Njamena under Nigeria’s command.
Meanwhile, BH has not been lying idle in the face of the devastating effects of the efforts of the multinational alliance committed to expelling it from the sub-region. Rather than shy away from the unfolding realities, the group has obdurately upped the ante in a bloody orgy of violence targeted at both soft and hard targets in Nigeria and other neighboring countries that have teamed up to battle the Islamists; a bold statement of defiance by a group that refuses to bulk, despite all the fiery salvos that have been thrown at it. Across some parts of Nigeria’s North-East and other communities in neighbouring countries, hell has virtually broken lose as BH slowly spreads its campaign of blood and iron across the sub-region; a development that has sent alarm bells ringing in the security establishments of these countries.
This column is calling on the Nigerian government and its allies to immediately expedite action on their proposed multinational initiative that is aimed at completely uprooting this group from all its strongholds in the sub region. With the extension of its attacks into neighboring countries, the need to act with dispatch has become all the more expedient. Launching off a comprehensive offensive – land and air – against Boko Haram will help in consolidating on the gains that have so far been made by the forces allied against it in pushing them out of the remaining swathes of territory they still occupy. Such an offensive will give the insurgents no time to recover and launch counter-offensives. Previous offensives against the group failed to achieve their strategic objectives because there were no follow up operations to secure the areas recaptured from the group, thereby, giving them room to reinforce, launch reprisal attacks and win back lost territory.
The purported willingness of Boko Haram to negotiate an amnesty agreement and a prisoner swap arrangement – that is supposed to involve the exchange of some of the group’s arrowheads in custody with the missing Chibok girls – with the Nigerian government seems like a strategic attempt to check the further witling down of its forces. Boko Haram is obviously experiencing battle fatigue and is desperately looking for some respite to enable it to go back to the drawing board and put its battered house in order. The recent successes of the coordinated efforts of the armed forces of the allied forces against the insurgents is a pointer to the fact that a well-drilled and equipped military force can effectively check Boko Haram’s ability to operate with impunity in the sub-region; a serious reality check on the air of invincibility that once surrounded this group.
In another vein, BH’s resort to suicide bombings is a clear indication that it is gradually losing its ability to further engage the sub-regional alliance in battle. The increasing scale, intensity and spread of its suicide bombing activities, since the commencement of the new offensive against is, is an indication of desperation on the part of a group that is doing all it can to ride the current storm engulfing it – a weakness that should be capitalized on by the forces allied against its murderous Jihad. Despite having been defeated in some areas it previously occupied in Nigeria, Boko Haram remains a serious threat to the sub-region, especially after recent devastating attacks and kidnappings in Cameroon, Chad and Nigeria.
The multinational regional approach to the fight against BH has accomplished some significant results. Although it is too early to assess the effectiveness of this approach, it seems to be heading towards the right direction and should, thus, be sustained. Forcing BH to fight on multiple fronts will ultimately lead to its downfall. A combination of the armed forces of all the countries in the sub-region affected by the activities of the group, in concert with the assistance of other countries assisting in the ongoing campaign, seems to be the best option in the current scheme of things. In the early stages of the crisis, it was obvious that Nigeria could not do it alone considering the fact that the insurgents were launching most of their attacks into Nigeria through its porous northern borders with neighbouring countries. But since the commencement of the regional initiative, there has been a remarkable turnaround in the initial one-sided tilt of the conflict.
In all, despite recent gains, other measures such as improving the quality of intelligence gathering and sharing, stricter border patrols, limiting the group’s access to its chief sources of funding and weapons, in conjunction with a complete overhauling of the legal framework to effectively address the problem, will all help in effectively checking the activities of BH in the sub-region. These measures should be implemented in tandem with other – ongoing and proposed – non-combative peacemaking and peace building initiatives. A comprehensive approach to the transformation of the ongoing conflict remains the most ideal solution to the immediate – and checks on future – security challenge posed to the sub-region by the activities of Boko Haram and other extremist groups. The use of military force should only be a temporal option.